Area Environmental Groups Target Mining Permits
“The permits…are legally sound and provide all the protections necessary to comply with all local, state and federal laws,” -Mosaic
“We work really hard and to the letter of the law…” – Army Corps
Oh, here we go again. The agencies who are supposed to protect the welfare of our citizens, and our beautiful state, are first and foremost worried about the laws and following them to the letter. If they do that, they they think themselves blameless for whatever ill comes from the destructive phosphate mining process. What this tells us is confirmation of our continuous rant — we must elect better people to be our lawmakers, and we must maintain an army of good lawyers. For this is the only way change will come.
This is especially important to the Santa Fe River, because at this moment, it is threatened by the most destructive and ruinous force ever in its long existence, HPSII Enterprises, which is trying to establish a phosphate mine near its banks in Union and Bradford counties.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Area environmental groups target mining permits
Phosphate industry has a large footprint in Florida.
By Zach Murdock
SARASOTA – Four area environmental groups announced Tuesday that they plan to sue two federal agencies over approvals of more than 50,000 acres for phosphate mining across central Florida.
The groups contend the operations “irretrievably damage habitat for imperiled species, threaten water quality and forever change Florida’s landscape” in and around critical watersheds that are a major source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Southwest Florida residents, including Manatee and Sarasota counties.
The joint lawsuit will be filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, ManaSota-88, People for Protecting Peace River and Suncoast Waterkeeper against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to the notice of intent to sue issued Tuesday morning.
The notice claims a series of violations to the Endangered Species Act in both agencies’ environmental reviews of mining impacts over the past three years within the Central Florida Phosphate District – an area with tens of thousands of acres of active and proposed mines spanning 1.2 million acres and six counties from Sarasota to Polk.
It also claims the agencies erred in approving a permit for the South Pasture Extension Mine, an expansion of an existing Mosaic Fertilizer mine in Hardee County.
“We’re taking a stand against the continued reckless expansion of phosphate mining,” said Justin Bloom, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “The industry has gamed the system time and again to make incredible profits by raping the land, mishandling hazardous waste and leaving behind a toxic moonscape and polluted aquifer.”
Essentially, the groups argue that the EPA must review the phosphate mining industry’s overall impact on the environment before any additional mining is permitted in the area, ManaSota-88 Chairman Glenn Compton said.
“There’s three steps in producing fertilizer: Mining, processing and disposal,” he continued. “The problem in the state of Florida, historically, is those three aspects have never been linked together. You can get a mining permit without ever having to address the waste disposal.”
The Army Corps stands by the reviews, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
“We are neither an advocate nor opponent of any project,” spokeswoman Nikki Nobles said. “We work really hard and to the letter of the law to make timely and purposeful decisions.”
Mosaic officials defended their projects in a statement prepared Tuesday evening.
“The federal permit was issued following the most comprehensive phosphate mine permitting process in the history of the industry,” the statement read. “We have full confidence in the strength of the South Pasture Extension permits. The permits for the mine extension are legally sound and provide all the protections necessary to comply with all local, state and federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act. We are confident in the comprehensive environmental review of all of our proposed projects.”
But Mosaic Fertilizer and the phosphate mining industry have long been criticized by federal and local government officials and environmental protection groups for the strip mining to retrieve phosphate ore and for the waste created by processing it into fertilizer.
“Phosphate mining violently disfigures the environment, destroying habitat, altering hydrology and displacing wildlife,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The New Wales gypstack sinkhole is a painful reminder that we’ve already lost so much to this industry.”
The federal agencies’ environmental review and one permit approval, if unchallenged, would set the stage for Mosaic to pursue other proposed mines in DeSoto, Hardee and Manatee counties. The DeSoto Mine and Ona Mine in Hardee County would be for more than 40,000 acres of new mining area combined.
The planned Wingate East Mine in Manatee would add another 3,635 acres to the existing Wingate mine at the county’s eastern edge.
The rezoning needed for that project received approval from the Manatee County Planning Commission in August, over some objections from nearby residents, the Sierra Club and Lopez, of the Center for Biological Diversity. Final consideration of the rezoning is tentatively scheduled to go before the County Commission on Jan. 26, county spokesman Nick Azzara said.
Tuesday’s announcement provides a 60-day notice, as required by the endangered species law, before the groups formally file suit in federal court – which will be after the County Commission is expected to consider the Manatee mine.
The environmental groups have succeeded in federal court against Mosaic before.
In 2012, the Sierra Club, ManaSota-88 and People for Protecting Peace River settled their lawsuit over the controversial extension to Mosaic’s South Fort Meade mine in Hardee County. The agreement allowed the company to mine 7,000 acres of land in exchange for environmental protections along the Peace River and the donation and preservation of the 4,171-acre Peaceful Horse Ranch in western DeSoto County.